From Nothing to Something. Nothing is no thing and Something is an object (or thing) which exists for a subject. Something exists in the realm of Duality or Tai Chi. Nothing represents Non-Duality/Oneness (when the subject and object merge and no thing is the same as every thing) or Wu Chi.
So how does this understanding of beginning relate to the experience of a ‘beginner’ considering taking up Tai Chi (or Yoga or Meditation)? We can describe the normal mode of living as a kind of oneness. We live inside our thinking mind and, even when we are doing physical activities, we experience constant thoughts both about what we are doing and about unrelated or associated things. Because ‘survival’ is such a significant function of the ‘thinking mind’ we have a negativity bias which prioritises thinking about threats to the self system. This mode of living inside our thoughts is before Tai Chi. It is a bizarre kind of Wu Chi because we are essentially unaware of the energy field in which we exist, we could call it No Chi. In the state of No Chi the real-time, fully connected, experience of reality is essentially outside our consciousness, and, because we are wired for survival, it is best depicted as darkness.
When we begin Tai Chi we have moments when the thinking lessens and the silent aspect of mind – perception or awareness – comes into the foreground through our direct experience of the subtle, inner aspect of our body. This experience of mind focussed on body is when Yin Yang or Tai Chi begins. The subject is our own awareness and the object is our our real-time experience of our body, our own Chi (Qi) field.
The more we work in the realm of Tai Chi the more we find balance in every aspect of the self; body, emotions and mind. In time we start to move from Tai Chi to Wu Chi.
As a beginner considering taking up Tai Chi there are quite a few things that are worth knowing in order to stand the best chance of finding a Tai Chi practice that works for you. So I hope you enjoy reading some of these articles as they emerge from my mind -_ –
About Tai Chi and Qigong Finding a Teacher Practice Taoism 101
My own experience of healing, growing and engaging in health have given me so much, I am dedicated to sharing what I have been lucky to learn and am starting to embody.
To coin a phrase from my teacher Grand Master San Gee Tam
It is with a huge sense of sadness that we say goodbye to our beloved teacher, friend and mentor – the head of our ‘Tai Chi Family’ and the Founder of the Golden Flower Tai Chi School. We are very grateful and privileged for all the teachings, friendship, insights and laughter. We will miss his physical presence, his spirit will stay forever.
Our hearts go out to his wife, Master Annukka Holland, his family and to the whole Golden Flower School community.
Grandmaster San Gee Tam devoted boundless love and energy to our School, and many friends are ﬁlled with the richness of his teaching. For the hundreds that have absorbed his teaching, it is like a bright light that shines within us. His physical presence will be greatly missed by so many people whose lives he touched, and all grieve the loss of the teacher and friend that we loved and will continue to love. There is a feeling that his spirit will remain as strong as ever, unrelenting, encouraging growth, adaptation and enjoyment of being.
Born James Holland in Winston Salem in 1946, he was aware of being ‘conscious’ from a young age and initially channeled his enthusiasm into music – speciﬁcally jazz music on the ﬂute. He went to Berklee school of music in Boston and became a professional jazz musician. In 1969 he joined in the Navy, and served as an air traffic controller in Vietnam during the War.
His path of mastery opened up through the deep connections he made with Master teachers. He was a disciple of Kundalini Master Muktananda, and for four years, he was an instructor for the original Arica School of Scientific Mysticism with Master Oscar Ichazo. Later he went to Pune to continue his work under Osho, who initiated him into the mysterious reality of subtle energy awareness and meditation. From Osho he received the name Swami Anand Sangeetam (“Anand Sangeetam” means “Celestial Music”).
After India, he moved to London to further his study of Tai Chi as private student of Grandmaster Chu King Hung, Oﬃcial representative and lineage holder of the of the Original Yang Style, by authority of Master Yang Shou Cheung, eldest son of Yang Cheng Fu. Grandmaster San Gee Tam was Chief Instructor-At-Large in the International Tai Chi Chuan Association (ITCCA) and founder of ITCCA in Brussels. He was instrumental in popularizing Tai Chi in Belgium. He studied for 15 years with Grandmaster Chu and was fortunate to receive the ‘seed teaching’’ of the complete Small Circle. Whilst in London, Grandmaster San Gee Tam combined his study of Tai Chi with the process of continual self-improvement that was the ‘est’ training (Werner Erhard).
During his time in Europe, Grandmaster San Gee Tam founded Creative Interactions, an organization that presented a wide range of courses in the area of self-development and essential personal education. This organization was integrated into the Golden Flower School, and over the decades, he trained many people in self-cultivation, energy reﬁnement, natural healing, bodywork, communication and meditation.
Following the time with Grandmaster Chu, Grandmaster San Gee Tam continued his work with Master teachers by commencing a 25-year period of private Tai Chi study with Grandmaster Dong Zeng Chen, grandson of the famous Tung (Dong) Ying Chieh. In the early 90’s, after returning to the USA, Grandmaster San Gee Tam joined the School of Daoist Master Ni-Hua Ching. His study of the Integral Way with Master Ni was a source of lifelong inspiration, and from Master Ni he received the name San Gee Tam which means “he whose life/presence beneﬁts all people.”
Grandmaster San Gee Tam’s areas of accomplishments are many and cover a wide range of life from ﬁlm-making, windsurﬁng and biking, Spartan racing and horsemanship. However, his greatest work was the establishment of the Golden Flower Tai Chi School. It was within the environment of this school that he was able to integrate the Master level teachings that he was so fortunate to have received — and to begin passing that on. Through the School, he had a deep personal connection and life altering impact on countless people, friends, seekers and Tai Chi practitioners. The school developed as a unique combination of Tai Chi, self-development and a “community that works together harmoniously”. The School thrives in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, USA and Russia with close to thousand students worldwide.
Over the years, hundreds of people have completed the Golden Flower Instructor Test. Grandmaster San Gee Tam always insisted upon very high standards, so passing the test to become a Golden Flower Instructor has always been a huge achievement. The School thrives through regular, weeklong Training Events and Retreats held several times a year in Europe and America. The Trainees, Senior Students and Instructors who attend continue to broaden and deepen their learning from his endless knowledge, understanding and embodiment of Tai Chi and of the principles of Life. He has encouraged us all into a continual process of reﬁnement. Private sessions with Grandmaster San Gee Tam were powerful, invaluable experiences.
The growth of the School blossomed in the attainment of a lifelong wish to establish a permanent Retreat Centre. In 2006, the school established its heart at The Heavenly Way Retreat in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains surrounded by nature and horses. This is the heart of the school; it is our playground for intense training, experienced by many as a tangible ﬁeld of consciousness and happy chi.
In 2019 Grandmaster San Gee Tam announced that his wife and long-serving student had reached the level of Golden Flower Tai Chi Master. Having been able to train his student to master level, former Master San Gee Tam became a Grandmaster. Now, Master Annukka becomes the new Master of the School. We are immensely grateful to Master Annukka for the 24/7 training that she took on. We appreciate her unique approach and look forward to learning in a new and different way from her.
Grandmaster San Gee Tam focused his intention and energy into the School, and in a relatively short time, he established a detailed curriculum for the Golden Flower Students as well as Instructors and expanded the ﬁeld of study to include Bagua, Hsing-I and Weapons training. He brought it all to the school in a comprehensive and multi-level way.
The methods at the centre of the Golden Flower system incorporated teachings from all the masters that Grandmaster San Gee Tam had learned from and were embodied in the forms he adapted from the Yang family — the Golden Flower: Qigong Form, Standard Form, Fast Form and Long Form with all their associated Exercises, Qigong Sets and Standing Postures. This serves and will continue to serve countless students worldwide, of all ages and all levels.
Grandmaster San Gee Tam attained the ability to demonstrate the martial applications of Tai Chi with eﬀortlessness. He also was able to apply his insight to reﬂect back to students in a way that made them able to see their own blocking and wasting patterns, whether they be physical, psychological or spiritual.
As the founder of the Golden Flower School, Grandmaster San Gee Tam was a natural leader sometimes confronting, always loving and in service to the ongoing process.
We feel sure that his spirit will continue to provide leadership for us as we continue the work that he began. His work and legacy will be continued by Master Annukka Holland, the body of dedicated instructors and all members of the Golden Flower community.
As Grandmaster San Gee Tam completed his life here on earth, many of us are looking for an avenue to express our Gratitude for him, to send Love and Support to Annukka and to deepen our connection with the Golden Flower Community.
To create an energy vortex of Gratitude, Love, Support and Connection, we suggest participating in Global Golden Flower Practice Sundays until February 21st, 4 pm Central European time.
Practice (Tai Chi) by yourself, connected to the whole school through the vortex, or with a group of choice.
Of course we all know how easy it is to accumulate tension. On the one hand we have psychological and emotional sources of tension, generally understood under the banner of ‘stress’, on the other hand we have postural stress. The psychological/emotional level causes us to contract, tighten or brace in response to external or internal stressors . It is harder to notice the more basic form of stress which is postural – we hold our body in positions where joints and muscles are under low intensity physical stress for long periods of time, such as sitting for many hours working on a computer or watching TV.
In our practice of Tai Chi we start by developing greater body awareness and we expand our ability to feel a whole lot more of the detail of our physical experience. This is the first level of our Qi work. With greater awareness we notice the source of our physical discomfort which was previously hidden for example leg pain may emanate from the lower back and knee pain from the hip. We may also find that there are whole areas of our body which hardly move and feel difficult to move. Tension can build up in such a way that parts of your body are locked into immobility. This tension manifests in muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints and for many people relates to the upper spine/neck/shoulder area or the lower back/hip/pelvis area. We use our body awareness as the basis of the ‘releasing tension’ method.
To describe how to release tension in one word its … movement. Our first movement practice is shaking! In every class we start with ‘Shaking and Breathing’ to music. This is the first, and perhaps most effective, tension releasing method in our school. It was developed by my teacher, Master San Gee Tam, inspired by his own direct interaction with Osho and his dynamic meditations. But shaking is only the start and as you practice more you find that almost everything we do in Tai Chi is a tension release method. Tai Chi movement uses the principle of dynamic stretching which means that the focus is on the movement and the stretch happens in the process of these movements. We use the Tai Chi frame (a very specific body structure) and we move with twists, turns and circular motions of the body/joints. We do all our dynamic stretching gently so at first you may not even notice that your body is getting stretched but over time this reliably releases tension and generates body relaxation.
A common mistake is for people to unconsciously fight their tension. This causes them to try too hard, so they approach their release with the thought of ‘breaking through’ tension and end up using too much force and making more tension. Our mind works like this and its counter intuitive to use less effort. The idea we want to develop is to use movement to melt tension – like ice to water.
The Tai Chi frame its self is fundamental to the release of tension. If poor posture is the source of chronic tension in the body then the Tai Chi frame introduces corrected posture to enable release and relaxation. (See article on Alignment on how to work with gravity and direct weight through the bones to the ground.)
As we progress we may become aware of a deeper kind of tension. We may notice we have knots and constriction inside our body such as a tightness inside the chest, a ball of tension around the solar plexus or ‘gut-wrenching’ feeling in the belly. Working with these deeper tensions is a slower process as they have typically built up over long periods of time and relate to deep rooted personal issues. Over time we learn to feel deep into the knots and use the subtle movement of breath/Qi to release little by little. Its sensitive work learning to feel into our deeper pain and slowly integrate it, we approach this with patience and gradualness so we avoid getting overwhelmed by the release of too much deep tension.
We keep progressing and growing as we let go of more and more tension and at some point we can work with our teacher to become more aware of beliefs that are buried deep in our mind that are the ultimate source of the tension we experience with our self and with life. Note that we don’t tend to address this until later on the the Tai Chi process – as our awareness has to get alot more more stable to allow us direct insight into our own mind.
If you attend a Tai Chi (or Qi-Gong) class you’ll probably have experienced that the teacher keeps repeating ….relax, relax, relax. Part of learning to relax is this process of releasing tension.
In the International Golden Flower Tai Chi School we have a long tradition of teaching students to a professional level and hundreds of people have become Instructors. The School upholds a high standard to ensure that a Golden Flower Tai Chi Instructor has worked intensively on themselves, refined their ability to work with the forms and with Qi and is ready to start to transmit the art. Senior Instructors in our local schools teach advanced students the whole ‘Curriculum of the School’ in detail and support students to more deeply embody the Principles. When a Trainee Instructor is ready then they may take their Instructor Test with Master San Gee Tam and Chief Instructor Annukka Holland. In Oxford we have a weekly class for Trainee Instructors. So far one student of the Oxford School (Marie Carty) has ‘graduated’ to Instructor and we have one or two more who may do so soon! There is no fixed amount of time that it takes to reach Instructor Level – but it is measured in years. Becoming a Golden Flower Tai Chi Instructor is a significant achievement.
We know that posture is important for health – but the knowledge may not be sufficient for us to change. Posture is a long-term effect of the way we move and how we stand/sit. Tai Chi is an ideal system to practice postural improvement. Moving slowly in upright postures we have time to feel our body position and refine it. We start to identify with the ‘correct feeling’ as we move and this awareness of the ‘correct feeling’ grows naturally. We develop it in our Tai Chi practice and we apply it when we go for walks and when we move about at home or work. The correct position is based on awareness of the vertical and is built from the ground up: hips above feet, torso above hips and head above torso. The focus on verticality is based on standing positions where we line ourself up with gravity – the basic environmental force.
As we learn more about Tai Chi movement we build our awareness of body mechanics.
The foundation of Tai Chi mechanics is the stance which is proportioned to be stable and allow free movement. We can fully shift our body weight into one leg and step forward or backwards into our stance. In the practice of stance and stepping we work with the structure of the hips and sacrum which later develop into the ‘energy centre’ of the body.
The expression of Tai Chi mechanics is in the arms and hands which develop effortless power that emanates from the stance and transfers through the spine. This effortless feeling in the arms/hands comes from developing the structure of our upper back and shoulders and learning to link them to the lower body to make a unified whole.
Correct practice of Tai Chi builds our ability to feel how we position our bones and joints and to smooth out postural issues. These are often in the stress points of the spine: the lower back/sacrum/hip axis or the upper-back/neck/shoulder axis.
Later we add in more subtle aspects of alignment. We learn how to ‘pull down the sacrum’, open the legs from our hips and move our legs with hip/knee/ankle/foot alignment. We learn to raise the spine, ’tuck in the chin’ to release our shoulders and to move our arms with shoulder/elbow/wrist/hand alignment.
Feeling your body is the most basic aspect of the Qi experience. It is the most immediate and appropriate starting point. The practice of feeling Qi is a kind of meditation which enables you to develop your mind. The goal in the process of developing your mind is ‘balanced’ mind … balance in Tai Chi is Yin/Yang. The Yang aspect of mind is ‘Yi’: the Intentional or wisdom mind. The Yin aspect of mind is ‘Xin’: the Heart-Mind or emotional mind. As we develop a more balanced mind we play with the harmonious co-existance of these two aspects and more specifically we allow Yin to follow Yang … for the heart mind to be guided by the wisdom mind.
Ok…so this sounds great…lets learn to balance our heart-mind and our wisdom mind! The problem is that our own mind states can be hard to really see and because we are our mind the process is slippery. Luckily, in Tai Chi, we have a well mapped process that has been tried and tested over the centuries. The process might look something like this:
Start with an idea of ‘the purpose’. For most people the default state is for the heart-mind to ‘run riot’ and the wisdom mind to struggle to assert itself. So balancing involves focussing on what we want more of – that is wisdom.
Find a good teacher!
Use slow conscious movement to practice feeling your body. This has two effects – the slowing of your body calms your heart-mind down and the focussing on feeling engages your wisdom mind.
Practice going deeper into the feeling experience and become aware of increasingly subtle sensations. This strengthens the two effects.
Develop a practice habit. The ‘unpressured’ habit to practice strengthens your ‘will’. Will in turn supports the strengthening of the wisdom mind.
Remember that we do not want to attack or even try to diminish the heart-mind – this is the source of our passion and enables the rich texture of our experience. We want to balance the two aspects of mind.
As you practice notice how mental distraction arises. Start to clarify for yourself the difference between the wisdom and heart mind states. With wisdom you empower your ability to choose and develop personal freedom. The heart mind represents your reactions to reality including primal reactions (eg fear of rats) socialised reactions (eg anxiety about doing the ‘right’ thing) and, for most people, trauma reactions (strong reactions that protect us against perceived threats based on past traumatic experiences). Your heart-mind strongly relates to mental and emotional memory.
Develop patience and allow yourself time to change & grow.
As you starts to get to grips with learning Tai Chi, you will probably realise that feeling Qi (Chi) is the key – and you would be right! So…why is this?
Before we set about looking at why your practice of feeling Qi is so important, lets first look at what Qi is. In fact let’s go back a little more and understand the framework within which this explanation of Qi sits. Reality only exists (for you) in ‘the present moment’ when you start to describe and define reality you may easily step back from it and move into what you ‘think about it’ and when that happens you are one step removed from reality and in fact it no longer exists (for you) – reality is gone until you choose to return to it. So… Qi exists as one aspect of our pure experience of reality – its a feeling and its wordless. We can use words to describe it, but the words aren’t it! Qi exists in a realm that is different from knowledge, it is our experience of ourselves, our body, our emotions our subtle sense of life itself. Qi is a ‘vibe’ and your vibe relates to vibes around you, from beings and objects that you connect to. Qi is the ground, the air, the trees and plants, the changes and events that you are part of. Qi is people and animals in relationship. Qi is sensory and on a subtle level is also beyond sensory. Qi is universal.
The method to develop your ability to feel Qi is so simple, just practice Tai Chi movement and keep focussing your attention on what you feel. At first this does not seem that it would lead anywhere but in time learning to feel Qi can bring profound benefits.
Feeling Qi is the key to unlocking most aspects of Tai Chi. So lets give ourselves an overview of these and then we can return later to look into each one more deeply.
Focussing on feeling is a kind of meditation, which enables you to develop your mind. It is the practice of focus itself. It develops the basic passive/awake state of mind.
Feeling your body enables improvements to posture, body mechanics and deeper aspects of body alignment.
As we get stable in our ‘felt sense’ we can locate tension. Once found we can begin to learn to release tension- this process starts with obvious physical tensions, continues into emotional tension, which can go back to our experience of significant past events. Ultimately we can find the most subtle layers of ‘existential’ tension.
Our ability to work in the Qi level starts to bring insight into health and healing. We can experience how we move in a constant cycle through high and low energy states, we see how energy flows and circulates – both within us and in relation to people and our environment.
Bringing our attention to our breath is a huge aspect of feeling Qi, we notice where the breath goes, its quality and how it relates to mind, relaxation and movement. We can learn to change how we feel – by breathing.
Learning to feel can be applied to what we consume. We can really taste food and notice how it makes us feel. We can uncover hidden desires for consumption that are driven by how things make us feel – especially alcohol and drugs. Qi is intimately intertwined with what we eat and drink.
Tai Chi is Yin/Yang and, in our experience of Qi, we can start to discern the ‘dual aspect’ of what we feel. One part still one part moving, full and empty, expanding/contracting, up/down, forward/back and on and on.
Going further with Yin/Yang we see the process of change itself, this includes the five elements cycle of transformation: Metal ->Water ->Wood ->Fire -> Earth (->Metal and on.…)
In our study of feeling we can experience how our mind and body together initiate movement. We develop our ability for intentional movement in time we can discern intention itself.
With good guidance from an experienced teacher we can keep working with feeling Qi to develop the Three Treasures – Jing, Qi and Shen. This is ‘the system’ of Tai Chi training from physical health through vitality to spiritual attainment by working at ever more subtle levels of feeling.
Lastly (and optionally) if we continue for long enough to develop our Qi we may become a proficient internal martial artist.
Who would guess that something as simple as learning to feel could offer the potential to take you so far on a path of self development – and be fun/enjoyable most of the way. Happy Qi.
Feeling the infectious enthusiasm of my american friends in the Golden Flower who completed a Spartan race in 2015 – especially Sangee, Annukka, Damien, Rick, Marc and Wendi – I formed a team on a cold wet New Years day – it started small and grew organically. Signing up for the race kick-started my ‘Spartan Up process’… motivated to get stronger whilst feeling a little fear of falling short. I had injuries and pain along the way that made me worry and the Race was present in my mind as an obstacle that confronted me. Getting family, friends and more of my Tai Chi family to join the team felt easy and an amazing team emerged. We had three inspirational training sessions. Two of them led by Carla and Jos Gerritsen who shared their spartan wisdom ! These gatherings where huge fun and created a warm fuzzy glow : ) My training gathered momentum and as the day got closer I felt good about myself and what I had done – including some crazy things like building rope climbing and spear throwing stations at home.
In the end 16 of us where gathered on the start line last Saturday feeling pumped up and ready to go. Wooo.
The race was fun – all the way. The end was euphoric.
Everyone in the team was amazing
The Spartan Up process boils down to a few key elements:
Exercising and getting fit is better within a team and working together to do a race as a team felt great . No gym membership required – just get outside run, do burpees hang off trees…aim for a balance between stamina, strength and few spartan obstacle techniques. Exercising can be fun if you connect with your inner child – go to the park and play on the monkey bars. Obstacle races where you don’t know what you will have to do offer a mental challenge that mirrors life.
Arriving back at Heavenly Way I feel a warm surge of appreciation for Master San Gee Tam, Annukka and the Heavenly Way Community for this beautiful space which supports us and provides the perfect setting for our training. The level of the school just keeps on rising and now we are starting to study the highest level – ‘Lineage Level’ Yang Family Small Circle Form. To begin Sangee and Annukka lead the group into a more conscious space – we make sure that absolutely everything is ‘handled’ and then we go deeper into reality. The session starts with Sangee giving an overview of the Small Circle Level of training and how it is really a study of the principles and a higher level of refining their embodiment. We prepare to do the form by practicing the Taoist Relaxation Exercises with a more subtle awareness of Qi, then we start to work on the form. Each movement is taught in great detail and is practiced many times before learning the next. We balance ever increasing level of relaxation with a more and more refined structure. The Qi is amazing and seems to come as much from the intention move into this higher level as it does from our physical reality. I feel that Sangee is transmitting huge qi into the space and maybe that whole Yang family are adding theirs into the mix too! It really is a great privilege to have access to such a high level of teaching and after 18 years of diligent study and practice I feel ready to embark on integrating this new level and inspired to continue my path of Tai Chi development. I also feel like simply doing nothing!